kennyhoopla 2020
[Photo courtesy of Arista Records/Mogul Vision]

KennyHoopla is ready to make his introduction to the world. Over the course of the past three years, the Wisconsin-based vocalist and multi-instrumentalist has been meticulously working on his debut project, how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway? The six-track EP is an invigorating mixture of sounds and styles, with Kenny pairing alternative rock alongside seemingly unrelated genres such as ambient trap and even drum and bass—think early 2000s indie rock reimagined by Generation Z.

Over a phone call, Kenny shares his one desire for those listening to the EP: “I hope that people just feel my energy. That’s all I can hope for at this point.” His aspirations may not be in vain. Just last week, the project’s title track climbed to No. 19 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart, with its reverb-soaked guitar, tidy hooks and danceable drums garnering millions of streams and ample radio time. 

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Kenny spoke with AltPress days ahead of his debut, explaining the first thing that comes to mind for each and every track on the EP as he shares exclusive insight into his creative process. You can presave the EP here and check out what he had to say about it below.

1. “thinkingoutloud”

I think first off, I just wanted my music to have a lot of color and texture. I wanted that to be just a stamp of Kenny sonically all into one. I wanted it to sound like the climax of a movie. If you listen to it, it’s almost like spoken word-ish. I feel like it’s more rapping than singing. I just wanted something that’s moving and that sounds like my life. I haven’t even listened to the EP because I’ve been so busy, and the rollout got changed, but I just listened to it again recently, and it sounds like a blur, which is how I feel like my life has been recently. I just also wanted something with movement and that sounds like color because that’s what I’m trying to get—a life full of color and not just all gray. I’m trying to reach that and that kind of music for the first time ever, like drum and bass kind of shit and strings and stuff. I’m just trying to make something beautiful, I guess.

It definitely sounds drum and bass inspired. What was your inspiration behind that? 

I think that this was the first time to really show who I am just because my come up has been weird and not super out there. I grew up on electronic music in general, like jungle and Aphex Twin and all that shit as a kid. I’ve always been in love with it. That was just me paying tribute to electronic music that I grew [up with].

When I was younger, I had this family friend named Yuri in my apartment complex, and he became a family friend. When I was 13, he taught me all about electronic music and jungle and drum and bass. He showed me “Girl/Boy Song” by Aphex Twin, and it was probably the most beautiful song I heard to this day. I still hold it very close to my heart. He would explain to me so passionately about how this song is the start of life and death. He told this story of how it sounded like the cycle of life to him. I also always loved strings. I think that’s why I fucked with it so much because it was everything that I wanted to hear. No lyrics or anything, just straight instrumentation. I think it sounds like organized chaos, which sounds super fucking corny, but that’s the best way I can put it. Just being aware of your tragedy and not being able to stop it, I guess.

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Can you tell me more about the opening monologue on the track?

That was this recording of my friend Kat. I’ve just been taking voice memos for forever with my friends. I think I was probably 17 [when] I was with my friend Kat and this feeling just came over [me]. We were just sitting outside in the grass and she was just talking. I always kept that voice memo specifically and then when I started making music I was like damn dude, I don’t know, it just felt so important to me. Like that beat was so perfect and I was like I have this voice memo that I need to put in here. That was real life. Like she didn’t mean to say any of that. I know it’s hard to hear. But it wasn’t staged is what I’m trying to say. It was real and it just spoke to me personally, like I don’t really care if anyone else doesn’t really get it. 

2. “how will i rest in peace if i’m buried by a highway?”

I just had the hook. One was “She’s going to cut my head off, but I don’t care,” which is more of the energy. Then there’s the “lost cause” hook, and then there was one more I hadn’t used, and it was just in my head. I think that’s where it started. I tried to make a beat out of it. I made the whole demo. Then I took that to [Marvy Ayy]. I ended up having to go to London, and I worked with James Dring, who’s worked with Gorillaz. He did the drums on “Feel Good Inc.” He just made it real. He did the bridge for me and all of the parts where I didn’t really get what to do. 

This has been your first song ever to hit the top 20 on the Billboard charts. How does that make you feel?

It makes me feel so fucking good. Well, it sucks because whenever I drop something, like even when the first song since then dropped, people always keep comparing me to people. At first it was Kid Cudi, so I stopped completely trying. I wasn’t trying to sound like him. It was the way I sang and the way I wrote and shit. Like every time I got compared, I almost wanted to quit music. I take being original so seriously and being myself is so important to me. Even music aside, that’s how you push culture forward—being an entity with an original energy that hasn’t been felt before. 

“Culture is so claustrophobic,” like you said.

Yeah, exactly. So that’s like a perfect example of that line. I mean I guess it’s just opinions, but someone always wanted to compare me or take something away from it. But whenever I wanted to make a song it was purposely to move further along—not that it didn’t come from my heart—but it was all super strategic. This song was 100% me, and I made most of it with my own hands. I played guitar when I had never played guitar before. It feels like people can’t take this one away from me. I’m proud of myself. I feel like I can do it again. I feel really, really good about it. I’m able to be fully proud because I know I worked really hard on it. I feel like I didn’t work that hard on anything before that. I wasn’t passionate. 

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I feel like the title of this song is very important. Where did it stem from?

That was a letter I wrote to somebody. It was a poem I wrote to someone in high school. I had just looked back on it. I think I was contemplating immortality. But at the end of it, I was like, “How will I rest in peace if I’m buried by the highway?” and it just made sense. It just always stuck with me. I’ve always had death in my life. It’s been a weird process and a touchy thing in my life. It touches on my fear as a human. We’d just drive by graveyards, and I always felt disrespectful blasting music because they’re supposed to be resting in peace, but there’s so much fucking life around them. What if something in them is still conscious and their spirits are still aware that they’re not at peace and they still can’t let go? What if it’s a girl, like somebody you loved, and it’s over, but you have no choice but to watch it live?

With the pandemic, even having this conversation is funny because we’re talking about whatever, and there are still people dying from a fucking virus. It’s just this whole paradox, like acting chill when the whole world is fucked up. It’s just hard. It’s hard to be sane living the life that I live. I just think all the time about when I die, I don’t know how I’ll be at peace just because there’s so much shit that’s happened. How do you just let all of that go? I still haven’t figured it out, and that’s why that line affects me so much because there’s so much context for it. It’s also what I liked because it did speak to me and life in general. As much as we think we have it all figured out, so much of life is unexplainable. No one really knows what the fuck we’re doing at all. 

3. “plastic door//”

I think I had a whole bunch of different metaphors for it. It was about a kid committing a murder or a shooting at school because he was getting fucked with by jocks. It was just touching on social statuses and social cues. He runs to this man’s house, and the man lets him in because he was lonely because his wife left. Then in the second verse, the man in the bathroom is washing the kid up, and then they’re realizing that they’ll be just like each other if they don’t change. The man was just like the boy, and they were both stubborn. The man was the kind of person that the kid was attacking at the school. They just saw their whole retrospect and learned common ground and found out shit about themselves. Then the kid dips and has to go run from the cops. 

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4. “dust”

I wrote that about three-and-a-half years ago now. It was originally some super-dark indie song. But that was just an a cappella song I was waiting to get on the right thing. This band called Now, Now, I’ve been listening to them forever. I have a lot of songs where I’ve been waiting to get into the room with the right people. Especially with this EP out, I wasn’t trying to make hits. I was just trying to make the best dialogue I could with the resources around me in the time frame. I just wanted to show that I’m human, I guess. That sounds really corny, but this is me. This is an intro to my life and me expressing myself artistically. When I listen back, it’s one of the most vulnerable songs. 

It’s a very ambient track, too. Once again, it stands on its own on the EP.

Yeah, I just wanted it to sound eerie, like the way that I feel inside. When I do get that way mentally, that’s what it sounds like. That sounds like when I toss and turn all night, and then you wake up and you hear the birds chirping, and it’s like dusk, and the sun’s coming up, and it’s foggy and shit. I feel like that’s exactly what it sounds like. 

5. “sore loser”

That one I wrote on guitar [even though] I didn’t know how to fucking play guitar. I wanted Day Wave in my discography, and I felt like that was important for my world in my head. I put that on the EP just because of the shit that was happening. Shit just kept not going according to plan, and I was like, “Fuck it, I’m just going to put it on there” because I couldn’t make anything else at the moment because I was fucking traveling all the time and having mental problems. Trying to produce, not having anywhere to make music at. I think that’s something that’s going to be something to see, the feedback to this. I feel like with these songs, they’re not amazing, but they do speak to the times that I’m going through. I hope people feel the energy that comes from that is all real, even if they hate it. It feels human. I hope they feel how rushed it was, but not in a bad way. “sore loser” is just something I needed to do. It was a long time coming. 

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Are you really a sore loser?

Yeah, I think so. I guess I was speaking to just my existentialism and being at peace with dying metaphorically and literally. 

So being at peace with dying makes you a sore loser?

Yeah, I guess so. It’s like how life isn’t fair for anyone. You accept it, but it still hurts. That’s what it is. Having no closure but having to find your own and accepting the hurt that comes with it in a balanced way.

6. “the world is flat and this is the edge//”

I wanted to make some shit that was colorful. I always wanted to make trap music, but I just wanted to do it my own way, and I wanted my shit to be colorful. That was probably my first real attempt at doing shit my way. I recorded it a cappella, and [the producers] just put production on it, and they fucking nailed it. 

It’s a dynamic track. It almost sounds like a movie soundtrack or something.

That’s for sure what I wanted it to sound like because my life is a movie. But that’s the kind of shit that I love. I love theatrical shit and scores and stuff like that. That’s the shit I live for, the shit that moves people. I know I’m way better than this, but I just keep remembering that this is just an introduction, and I think there’s beauty in what it took to make this—just all the shit I had to do to get to this. I think it’s a good accolade of my life so far. It doesn’t speak to my whole life thus far, but at least as of late. 

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Do you feel like you don’t give yourself enough credit?

I feel like I haven’t earned it yet. I know what I’m capable of, and I know what I can do, and I know what other people have done, so I know what’s also possible. Or even the whole thing of to even be considered legendary status, you’re supposed to have 1,500 songs or some shit like that. I haven’t done that yet. I don’t think I’m an artist yet. You know what it is? I don’t think I give myself enough credit because I want the people to do that for me because that’s what’s supposed to happen. I feel like I came from literally nothing, and I’ve never been good with flexing or talking my shit because I know with the shit I’ve been through, I’m not even supposed to be here right now. If I’m supposed to be here, I’m just going to stay humble until it gets to the point physically where I have no choice but to talk my shit [up] because the stats are up, and it’s just undeniable. I’m trying to get to the undeniable place. I need to shut up and discipline myself and not get excited because all of this could be taken away. I think it comes down to me just being grateful. I haven’t even gotten to touch base on my story yet, and I feel like I have no place to talk yet. I guess I beat myself up a lot. But maybe it all just comes down to me wanting to be great as a human. I just want to be great, and I want to be so human that I’m a superhuman. I want to unblock those powers you see in your favorite people in myself. I just want to become my own superhuman [so] there isn’t just misery.